A federal judge in New York has ruled that US President Trump cannot block users from seeing his tweets. His shitty, shitty tweets.
U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan issued the ruling against Trump and his social media manager Dan Scavino today, which has the potential to impact other cases where public officials have blocked users for one reason or another.
“This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, ‘block’ a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States,” Buchwald wrote in her ruling. “The answer to both questions is no.”
The judgement, which you can read in full here, explains that President Trump has made some important announcements on Twitter, including the time that he said he’d be nominating Christopher Wray as the new FBI director and the time that Trump unceremoniously dumped former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The court more or less found that the president’s Twitter account was an “interactive space” that the plaintiffs were being deprived from participating in by being blocked.
“Turning to the merits of plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim, we hold that the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment and that the President and Scavino exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account, including the interactive space of the tweets sent from the account,” the ruling reads.
“That interactive space is susceptible to analysis under the Supreme Court’s forum doctrines, and is properly characterised as a designated public forum. The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the President’s personal First Amendment interests,” the ruling concluded.
Seven Twitter users brought the suit: Rebecca Buckwalter, Philip Cohen, Holly Figueroa, Eugene Gu, Brandon Neely, Joseph Papp, and Nicholas Pappas. They were assisted by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which announced the ruling on Twitter:
— Knight First Amendment Institute (@knightcolumbia) May 23, 2018
President Trump’s tweets have been particularly unhinged lately. One from earlier today simply said “WITCH HUNT” in all capital letters – a seeming reference to the investigation of all the crimes him and his associates may have been involved in. Just today, the BBC reported Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen took somewhere between $US400,000 and $US600,000 to set up a meeting with Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko. Cohen denies the accusations.
It’s not clear how the president will begin unblocking all of America, but you brought this upon yourselves, you masochists.
Update, 2:15pm ET: The Knight Institute is obviously very happy with the outcome.
“We’re pleased with the court’s decision, which reflects a careful application of core First Amendment principles to government censorship on a new communications platform,” Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director, said in a statement. “The president’s practice of blocking critics on Twitter is pernicious and unconstitutional, and we hope this ruling will bring it to an end.”
Update: The Justice Department reportedly doesn’t like the ruling and is looking at what to do about it.
UPDATE: Justice Department says it disagrees with ruling ordering Trump to 'unblock' some Twitter users and will consider next steps pic.twitter.com/S6F9gxURjS
— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) May 23, 2018